Subaru Forester SUV (2013 - ) review
The Forester has always been a favourite with the Barbour jacket set, but Subaru is hoping the latest enhancements to comfort and refinement will help it appeal to a wider demographic.The Auto Trader expert verdict: 3.3 Set against a backdrop of SUVs that deliver all the comforts, refinement and easy driveability expected of a modern family car, the Forester is always going to struggle. The latest models may be spacious and comfortable enough, but the powertrains are not particularly refined, and the cabin finish is still too basic to appeal to an increasingly sophisticated audience. Throw into the mix vague steering and an obvious lack of front-end traction, and the Forester is seriously out-classed by all too many rivals.
- Strong performance
- Great visibility
- Spacious, airy and practical cabin
- Noisy diesel engine
- Lacks on-road traction and steering feel
- Extremely thirsty turbo petrol engine
At a glance
Although the Forester’s rather squared-off styling looks pretty dated compared to the plethora of funky SUVs that have hit the catwalks recently, in many ways, it’s all the better for it. The boxy, upright design and vast expanses of glass – both to the sides and rear – encourages masses of daylight to flood into the cabin, and this glasshouse effect also provides superb all-round visibility. Executed with purposeful motoring in mind too, the impressive 220mm ride height (as much as in a Toyota Land Cruiser) allows for true off-roading.
Subaru has rightly come under fire over the years for designing interiors which are solid, but lack the material quality and visual appeal of more imaginative counterparts. The Forester is still more utilitarian than the class average, but the latest updates do make things look and feel slightly more modern and higher quality than what went before. The interior is now finished with a fair measure of soft-touch materials and is adorned with some fancy piano black highlights and additional sparkly metallic trim, while all the major instruments, including the sat-nav display, have decent resolution.
Despite feeling like quite a compact vehicle from the driver’s seat, there’s a surprising amount of room in the Forester’s cabin, especially in the rear. Also, despite the relatively high ride height, as all four side doors open wide and the roof line is pretty much a horizontal, getting your ageing Aunt Able into her seat or loading your squirming little’uns into their child seats should be a relatively stress-free affair. Because of all the 4x4 gubbins underneath, the Forester’s boot load floor is rather high, and at first sight, the boot itself appears to be quite shallow. However, this is a bit of an optical illusion, because at 505-litres, or 1,595-litres if you drop the rear seats via a handy release button inside the boot, it should be more than capable of coping with most family’s needs.
Ride and handling
Despite its fairly substantial dimensions, the Forester’s blunt tailgate and commanding view over the bonnet deliver a surprisingly compact driving impression, which comes in very handy when threading through congested urban streets. Equally, nipping into that last cherished parking space outside the school gates is also a relative doddle compared to design-focused products such as the Peugeot 3008 and Toyota C-HR, which rely heavily on cameras and acoustic parking sensors to help avoid bumper scuffs. While the ride is certainly comfortable, ensuring battered road surfaces and even grizzled railway crossings are dismissed with ease, any thought of enjoying the Forester’s sprightly performance are steadfastly undermined by a poor steering connection and a fundamental lack of front-wheel grip. You’ll have to go an awfully long way to find another four-wheel-drive car that will break front wheel traction so readily. As a consequence, a gingerly applied throttle is definitely the order on rainy days if you want to keep everything heading in the right direction when circumnavigating a slippery roundabout. We did take the Forester off-road however, and were impressed by its ability to conjure up grip in some seriously muddy situations.
Although the 2.0-litre petrol and diesel flat-four units with 148 and 145bhp respectively are the bedrock powertrains – the diesel being the main staple – there’s also a rip-snorting turbocharged petrol engine, which produces 238bhp at full chat, if you like your off roader to have a bit of a dark side. This engine is linked to an all-new CVT automatic transmission, and like all Subarus, it comes with all-wheel-drive as standard. Find a straight stretch of road however and even the diesel Forester’s relative light weight and strong mid-range power delivery means it produces some surprisingly vivid performance.
Refinement is not a particular strong point, though. The uniquely configured 2.0-litre flat-four diesel engine is a bit vocal on start-up and at idle, but you forgive that. It’s even quite hushed when dossing along in top gear, but drop a cog or two to summon up a burst of overtaking acceleration and it pings and reverberates like a squadron of woodpeckers knocking out a dawn chorus on an old biscuit tin. You’ll also notice a few additional wizzes and whistles that you could do without, including a fair amount of turbo induction whoosh and some indiscreet levels of gearbox lash, as the various shafts and cogs whirr themselves dizzy.
The Forester is one of the thirstier cars in its class, largely because of its permanent four-wheel drive. The 2.0-litre petrol manages a claimed 43.5mpg and 150g/km of CO2 (with the Lineartronic gearbox), or 33.2mpg/197g/km in the turbocharged model. The diesel is more competitive, averaging 49.6mpg and 150g/km of CO2 with a six-speed manual. Despite their thirst, Foresters are still sort-after vehicles, especially in rural areas, where their go-anywhere credentials are valued over any lack of refinement, so residual values remain surprisingly strong.
Subaru markets the Forester squarely at rural folks who need dependable transport which can take some punishment. Its engines and four-wheel drive system are well tried and tested, while the company is ranked a decent 11th out of 39 car makers by Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index. Last, but not least, all Foresters are sold with a five-year/100,000 mile warranty, which should give plenty of peace of mind.
Euro NCAP crash tests proved the Forester has excellent safety, with a maximum five-star rating and a 91% score for adult occupant safety. It’s fitted with front, side, curtain and knee airbags, as well as two Isofix child seat anchor points and Subaru’s Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC), which includes trailer stability control to enhance its towing capabilities. It does not get many of the latest safety features that are available on many of its rivals however, including such innovations as autonomous braking.
While petrol cars are classed in XE, XE Premium and XT Turbo specification, the diesels are designated XC and XC Premium. Regardless, base cars come with 17-inch alloys, front foglamps, heated door mirrors, black roof rails, air-con, Trailer Stability Control and Bluetooth as standard. XE and XC models gain auto lights and wipers, a reversing camera, leather steering wheel, dual-zone air-con, silver roof rails, cruise control, electric driver’s seat, multi-function display, and folding door mirrors. The XT range-topper has 18-inch alloys, twin exhausts, privacy glass, sat-nav, sports body kit, keyless entry, a powered tailgate, and an engine start button.
The decision to buy or not to buy a Forester will depend very much on your lifestyle.
If you live in remote parts, the Forester is undoubtedly still a very alluring proposition, as its strong off-roading abilities, hardy mechanicals and brilliant all round visibility will surely get you out of no end of sticky situations. Conversely, those living a more genteel existence may find the Forester’s rather agricultural powertrain, dated interior and unengaging driving manners seriously old-school, compared to countless more sophisticated rivals.